Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions said:
“The CPS has looked in great detail at the comprehensive files submitted to us by the police, both in relation to corporate liability at News Group Newspapers and against 10 individuals at Mirror Group Newspapers for alleged phone hacking.
“After a thorough analysis, we have decided there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction and therefore no further action will be taken in any of these cases.
“There has been considerable public concern about phone hacking and invasion of privacy. Over the past three years, we have brought 12 prosecutions and secured nine convictions for these serious offences. These decisions bring the CPS’s involvement in current investigations into phone hacking to a close.”
Corporate liability of News Group Newspapers (NGN)
A file was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service by the Metropolitan Police Service in July 2015, following an investigation into corporate liability as part of Operation Weeting. Potential charges for phone hacking and perverting the course of justice were considered.
After thorough analysis of the evidence, it has been decided that no further action will be taken for either charge. This decision has been made following the Full Code Test of the Code for Crown Prosecutors; there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, therefore a prosecution cannot take place. Any decision by the CPS does not imply any finding concerning guilt or criminal conduct.
The offences considered were:
- The interception of communications in the course of transmission without lawful authority contrary to section 1(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
- Perverting the course of justice contrary to Common Law
The law on corporate liability in the United Kingdom makes it difficult to prove that a company is criminally liable if it benefits from the criminal activity of an employee, conducted during their employment. The company will only be liable if it can be proved that the individual involved is sufficiently senior, usually close to or at board level, to be the ‘controlling mind and will’ of the company. Unlike other countries, the principles of vicarious liability or poor corporate governance, which are matters that are easier to prove, play no part in establishing corporate criminal liability.
The present state of the law means it is especially difficult to establish criminal liability against companies with complex or diffuse management structures. In this case, as in any corporate liability case, we have looked closely at the overall structure of the company involved, and the level of management and decision-making powers of those involved, in order to come to a decision.
Interception of communications
Andy Coulson has already been convicted of phone hacking offences. However, Mr Coulson cannot be said to have been a “controlling mind” at News Group Newspapers (NGN); he was not a director or senior officer. He was editor of the News of the World newspaper which was under the overall direction and control of NGN. Responsibility for what went into the newspaper rested with him as its editor but while he had control of the newspaper, within restrictions, he was not a controlling mind of the company. Accordingly, we are satisfied that corporate criminal liability cannot be attributed to the company through the actions of Andy Coulson as he cannot be considered to have been the ‘controlling mind and will’ of NGN.
Secondly, there is no evidence to suggest that any member of the Board of NGN had knowledge of phone hacking when it was taking place. Knowledge gleaned after the fact is not sufficient. An individual was paid significant sums of money over many years by NGN for phone hacking, but there is no evidence that anyone on the Board knew that the money paid was because phone hacking was taking place. Therefore, there is no senior officer of the company through whom corporate criminal liability could be established.
Perverting the course of justice
We considered allegations of perverting the course of justice relating to the company’s actions, from April 2006 when the first arrests for phone hacking took place, until April 2011, when the company admitted liability in civil proceedings for phone hacking.
In order to charge NGN with this offence, it would need to be proved that a person or persons who were the ‘controlling mind and will of the company’ acted or embarked on a course of conduct which was intended to pervert the course of justice.
In order to examine these allegations we have looked at evidence in three areas: the original police investigation into phone hacking in 2006, the civil settlements, and the email deletion policy of the company.
We have reviewed the evidence in relation to the News of the World employees’ conduct during the original police phone hacking investigation and concluded that there is nothing that these employees could have done which would have altered or affected the resulting prosecution. Therefore the company cannot be said to have perverted the course of justice.
The civil settlements were also considered. However, the fact that NGN decided to settle rather than resist civil proceedings cannot be considered to be actions which could pervert the course of justice.
We have examined the email deletion policy of NGN, which formed the basis of part of the evidence in the recent phone hacking trial. There are legitimate reasons for companies to have an email deletion policy. In this case, there is no evidence to suggest that email deletion was undertaken in order to pervert the course of justice.
Accordingly, there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction, so we have determined that News Group Newspapers cannot be charged with perverting the course of justice.
Journalists at Mirror Group Newspapers
Ten files were considered by the CPS as part of Operation Golding, relating to allegations of phone hacking at Mirror Group Newspapers. These files concerned ten individual journalists who worked at Mirror Group Newspapers. It has been determined there is insufficient evidence against any individual suspect to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for phone hacking.
In reaching this decision, we considered a number of strands of evidence, including scrutiny of suspicious call data. The call data showed a regular pattern of two calls being placed to the same number (double tapping) and also a large number of calls placed to voicemail platform numbers. However, it is not possible to prove the fact that the ‘double taps’ and calls to voicemail platform numbers are definitely instances of phone hacking. In addition, it was common practice at Mirror Group Newspapers for journalists to use one another’s telephones, and so it is not possible to determine which individuals were responsible for making specific calls.
Whilst the call data was deemed suspicious it could not be said with certainty that it showed instances of phone hacking by any specific individual and was ultimately found to be insufficient to bring a prosecution.
We considered statements from two potential witnesses, both former employees of the Sunday Mirror, who made direct allegations against certain individuals. Following thorough scrutiny of the allegations we decided we were unable to put either forward as a prosecution witness.
The first stage of the Full Code Test is that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge. Without the evidence passing the first stage a prosecution in any individual case cannot take place.
These decisions draw to a conclusion the CPS’s involvement in current phone hacking investigations.
In total, 12 prosecutions have taken place with nine convictions for offences relating to phone hacking.
Notes to editors
- There have been 12 prosecutions under Operations Weeting, Pinetree and Golding, and nine people have been convicted: (Jules Stenson, Dan Evans, James Weatherup, Andy Coulson, Greg Miskew, Glenn Mulcaire, Ian Edmondson, Neville Thulbeck and Graham Johnson). Three people were acquitted.
- Any decision by the CPS does not imply any finding concerning guilt or criminal conduct; the CPS makes decisions only according to the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and it is applied in all decisions on whether or not to prosecute.
- The CPS's function is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for the criminal court to consider. The CPS assessment of any case is not in any sense a finding of, or implication of, any guilt or criminal conduct. It is not a finding of fact, which can only be made by a court, but rather an assessment of what it might be possible to prove to a court, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
- This assessment is based on the evidence available arising out of the police investigation and not on the evidence that is likely to be gathered by the defence, and likely to be used to test the prosecution evidence. The CPS charging decision is therefore necessarily an assessment on the basis of the evidence that is available to the CPS at the time the decision is made.
- CPS prosecutors must also keep every case under review, so that they take account of any change in circumstances that occurs as the case develops, including what becomes known of the defence case. If appropriate, the CPS may change the charges or stop a case.